The U.S. Army now says that seven out of 10 young people between
the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible to become soldiers. The alarming reduction in the pool of prospective soldiers
worries Army brass and they largely attribute it to three issues: obesity or
health problems; lack of a high school education; and criminal histories.
“There’s a reliance on an ever-smaller group of people to serve
and defend the country,” said Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general
for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky. “What do we do about
that and how do we address that concern? “That’s the big national security question that I’m struggling
Facing challenges like more restricted access to schools and
technological changes that require hiring for positions with very specialized
skills like cyber warfare, the Army is preparing for a recruiting offensive
using new tools and techniques to redefine the 21st century soldier. “I would say it’s modernizing, or defining in a more precise
way, what is considered quality for soldiers,” Batschelet said.
The current state of Army recruiting remains solid.
Influenced by budget cuts and the drawdown of the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, along with a still sluggish economy, the Army has been able to
tighten requirements while still meeting its manpower needs.
In 2011, after surging during the height of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, the active-duty Army swelled to over 561,000 soldiers. “Today, the Army is at about 500,000 troops,” Batschelet said.
“Given the current guidance that we’re getting from Congress, the chief of
staff of the Army’s plan is that he has to take the Army down to about
The result has seen the Army drawing its most highly qualified
soldiers, according to current Army standards, in recent memory.
“This last year we recruited 96,000 young men and women for both
the active and reserve [Army],” Batschelet said. “The quality was some of the
highest we’ve experienced in many, many years.
“We had almost 95 percent of our regular Army recruits who were
high school grads.”
In fact, with the current educational requirements of a high
school diploma, two of the most-decorated soldiers of World War I and World War
II, Alvin York and Audie Murphy, would be ineligible to join the Army today.
“We’re looking for America’s best and brightest just like any
Fortune 500 company out there,” said Lt. Col. Sharlene Pigg, head of the
Jacksonville-based 2nd Recruiting Brigade. “We’re looking for those men and
women who excel in science, technology, engineering and math.”
However, the Army may be pricing itself right out of the market.
“That three in 10 number that I mentioned, we think that number
is headed to two in 10 by 2020,” Batschelet said.
Along with so many young people ineligible to serve, the Army is
also becoming more of a “family business,” he said.
“We know that about 79 percent of our recruits report that they
had a family member who served or was currently serving,” Batschelet said.
“That’s a little troubling to us because we want to broaden those opportunities
and get other young Americans to join.”
From baby boomers to young millennials, nearly everyone had a
father, grandfather or other family member who served in the military.
However, as the Greatest Generation passes away, that is no
longer the case.
“The fewer people who serve, the more troubling that becomes for
the nation,” Batschelet said.
In addition, the general also acknowledged that, in some areas
of the country, recruiters see less access to high school students due to a
variety of factors.
“We’re seeing an increasing trend with schools shutting us out
from access or making access pretty restricted,” Batschelet said. “Then the
ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test) test itself, schools are either
choosing to not administer the ASVAB or withholding results from recruiters.
“There are unintended consequences there, because we think that
is indirectly sending the signal that service to country in the military is not
an honorable profession or something to which you should aspire.”
In Batschelet’s view, this serves to limit opportunities for
high school students. “It denies young people an opportunity to hear about some
of the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of serving in the Army,” he
said. “That’s an issue for the other services also, I believe.”
However, in the Southeast — what one might call the “Solid
South” — that seems to be less of a problem.
Historically, the Southeast has punched above its weight for
soldiers per capita and still does.
“They are at a higher propensity even in the face of lower
unemployment numbers for the youth there is, in the Southeast, a higher
propensity broadly for young people to consider joining the Army,” Batschelet
Recruiters in Jacksonville have noticed this as well.
“I would say that overall we have had great access to all of our
school districts,” Pigg said. “We have a great rapport with the faculty, we
have access and, as a whole, I would say they’ve embraced our recruiters on the
“Also, there is just the overall South having a high propensity
In many other areas of the country, the same does not hold true
and Army policymakers are putting forth never-before-seen proposals to try to
combat the dwindling pool of recruits.
“The two definitions of quality today, which are doing well on
the ASVAB and a high school diploma, maybe that’s not holistic enough for the
future,” Batschelet said. “So we’re moving into the arena of non-cognitive testing
and personality testing.
“Maybe your academic scores aren’t all that great, but you’ve
got some characteristics that would allow you to perform well as a soldier.”
Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking ideas, especially for
hard-line Army traditionalists, is a changing of standards for certain roles
inside the Army.
RISE IN OBESITY
Obesity alone, according to numbers cited by the Army, has risen
in children ages 12 to 19 from 5 percent in 1980 to 17.6 percent in the 2006, the
most recent year available.
The current Army policy is that every recruit, whether enlisting
for infantry or graphic design, has to meet the same physical requirements to
join — that may be changing.
“Today, we need cyber warriors, so we’re starting to recruit for
Army Cyber,” Batschelet said. “One of the things we’re considering is that your
[mission] as a cyber warrior is different.
“Maybe you’re not the Ranger who can do 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups
and run the 2-mile inside of 10 minutes, but you can crack a data system of an
“But you’re physically fit, you’re a healthy person and maintain
your professional appearance, but we don’t make you have the same physical
standards as someone who’s in the Ranger Battalion.”
Batschelet admitted that such a drastic change may be hard for
some to swallow.
“That’s going to be an institutional, cultural change for us to
be able to get our heads around that is kind of a different definition of
quality,” he said.
“I would say it’s a modernizing, or defining in a more precise
way, what is considered quality for soldiers.”
However the Army chooses to adapt, the central problem remains
that the service is facing a shortage of eligible soldiers unlike it has faced
since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973.
“Societally, the bottom line is that the Army had a demand-based
model under the all-volunteer force for the last 40 years,” Batschelet said.
“We didn’t have to worry too much about it because supply was adequate to
“It just doesn’t look like that is going to be the case going forward.”